VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, allows users to place regular voice calls over a computer network rather than over a public switched telephone network (PSTN). This means that VoIP systems involve dynamic routing, which does not depend on geographic location. PSTN however, requires a static location to function properly.
Although this technology has been around since the late 1970’s, with various experiments to send packets of voice over ARPANET (the precursor of the internet), true pursuit after a viable VoIP technology did not begin until the mid 1990s. As its use increased into the twenty-first century, problems began increase with the equipment and technology as well. VoIP issues have been widely discussed by professionals, because this technology can easily replace the PSTN. It’s no longer a matter of whether VoIP will replace the PSTN in the future, as current systems can serve anyone from the teen at college to an expansive enterprise.
Business VoIP systems now make sense – especially for those businesses that want to eliminate the costs inherent in calls among multiple offices connected to a company Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN). The cost-cutting feature based upon using a LAN or WAN isn’t as apparent with a smaller business, but may begin to show economic sense as the company grows.
Depending upon the VoIP setup that you choose, internal calls typically will be conveyed over your phone network while calls to other company locations are routed over your computer network. Finally, calls to external numbers are sent through your network to a gateway that connects to the public phone network. All your calls connect seamlessly to any phone user, as there are no compatibility issues in most cases. Qualified and experienced VoIP vendors will integrate the VoIP system in a manner that insures a smooth transition and little disruption to your work schedules.
What You’ll Need
The VoIP vendor who integrates VoIP with your existing phone system will use several components to make the system run smoothly. First, a central device will manage the calls, much the way a private branch exchange (PBX) or key system unit (KSU) manages traditional phone systems. This call device can be a dedicated piece of hardware such as an IP PBX, an IP enabled PBX (keep your existing PBX and enable it with software and/or hardware upgrades), or a server that runs regular software. In many cases you can use existing digital phones and computer network, although you might need to upgrade some network hardware.
A VoIP system can save money if you’re setting up a new office, but mostly in the long term as the addition of a parallel voice network cable costs little to add. While you search for a VoIP system, also look for an experienced local reseller that is licensed and/or certified, with manufacturer support and the ability to respond quickly to problems that might need an urgent site visit. This is where you’ll truly save money.
Features to Look For
You might consider a hybrid traditional/VoIP system that is less expensive and that would fit your needs. The technology that any given VoIP system uses will help you determine whether you can leverage your existing equipment, and it will force you to consider compatibility issues. Beware of vendors who want to add VoIP to your existing network no matter if your network is prepared for the change or not. Those vendors may charge you later to add upgrades to remedy call quality. An analysis of your current network by an unbiased third party can save you money in the long haul.
Finally, you may want to obtain a system built on open standards. While all VoIP systems use the industry standard Internet Protocol (the “IP” in VoIP) to route calls, some systems require proprietary technology for administration or integration features. If your system runs entirely on open standards, it can allow for great flexibility in integration and customization. An open standards system will help you to avoid possible licensing fees required for proprietary software as well as to avoid the limits that proprietary software might place on any business expansion.
Finally, a number of advanced methods are used to overcome VoIP Quality of Service (QoS). Some problems you may encounter include: delay, jitter, echo, congestion, packet loss, and disorderly packet arrivals. Since VoIP naturally is a delay-sensitive application, a well-engineered, end-to-end network is necessary to avoid many of those problems.
The quality of transmitted speech is a subjective response of the listener (human or artificial means), but there are several methods you can use or ask for to boost the QoS. The Mean Opinion Score is one of the most important parameters that determine the QoS. With MOS, a wide range of listeners judge the quality of a voice sample (corresponding to a particular CODEC) on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent). Algorithms also can evaluate the QoS, and these include PSQM (ITU P.861), PAMS (BT) and PESQ.
The main reason for larger businesses to switch to VoIP is to eliminate the costs inherent in calls among multiple offices that are connected to a company Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN). A VoIP system can eliminate long-distance charges among multiple offices on a single phone system, but it cannot replace your existing phone service to the outside world. The two main drawbacks to VoIP systems within any business are the network requirements and the potential for outages.
For most businesses, it’s best to work with a flexible hybrid traditional/VoIP system that can be upgraded in the future, as some common business devices, such as fax machines, credit card processors, and some security systems, require analog phone lines. But, what makes up a complete VoIP system varies among vendors, so be sure to conduct a benefit and cost analysis before you make choices.
No matter how remote the locations of multiple offices, a VoIP phone system can completely eliminate long-distance calling charges among them. However, it does not replace your existing phone service to the outside world.
What You’ll Need
Additionally, you’ll need to know startup costs beyond setup and equipment fees. It’s easy to believe that a VoIP system will save money when advertise costs may represent minimal configuration without add-on servers or other equipment. Check, also, to see if the system you chose includes a means to send faxes.
Ask how the company guarantees your Quality of Service (QoS), and how that company handles support issues. One way to determine the quality of your VoIP vendor is to ask how they intend to provide full 911 or E911 services in 2008. The ability to connect to E911 services is now a requirement, and your company may not have a current solution, but it would be wise for them to have one in the pipeline.
Finally, you’ll need to know about this VoIP vendor’s future plans for growth. Try to determine if this business will be around for a number of years, otherwise you may find yourself searching for new VoIP vendors or support systems more often than you’d like. If your company is acquired, be sure your contract is binding with the new company.
Features to Look For
Some features you might consider for your enterprise VoIP system are the same as those you’d prefer in your traditional landline system. These features may include the following:
- Unlimited Calling
- Simple Administration
- Conference Bridge
- Music/Messaging On Hold
- Phone-based Management
- Call Park/Call Pick-Up
- Do Not Disturb
- Call Transfer
- Call Forwarding
- 3-way Conference
- Caller ID/Call Waiting Caller-ID
- Local Time Zone Management
- Stutter Tone Notification
- Ring Tones
- Ring Groups
- Local Number Porting (LNP)
- Directory Assistance Listing
- Microsoft Outlook Integration
- Online Billing
- Virtual Numbers
- Toll-Free Numbers
- Professional Installation Services
- Value Added Services
Ask about any methods that the VoIP provider uses to handle online security measures, processing requirements, and changes in protocols and mechanisms. Additionally, you may discover that VoIP’s technology includes a delay, or latency. Security measures may add to this latency with encryption. While computing power can speed up the VoIP process, if you aren’t prepared for the latest and greatest in speed, then you’ll need to adjust to delays in packet deliveries.
Another feature to look for is backward compatibility, as some VoIP protocols don’t work effectively with older firewalls and NAT-Network Address Translation that are integrated with some LAN and WAN networks. The cost of upgrading may not be something you’re prepared to deal with at the current time.
Despite the fact that VoIP has emulated many features contained within PSTN systems, you’ll encounter employers and employees who balk at adopting this new technology. Expect complaints as individuals become accustomed to changes. Some complaints may have merit, while others may merely echo the problems inherent with current VoIP systems. One way to avoid these problems is to wait until VoIP has resolved the E911 issue, which may alter how VoIP is used across the board.
Midsize Business VoIP
Many VoIP companies are coming on strong with midsize business applications that merge functions and support for both voice and data into a single network. Bundles that focus on IP PBX VoIP products are geared toward the midsize office user. These bundles are built with the feature needs and budget considerations of the midsize office client, and many offer the possibility of expansion.
Although VoIP is still in the relatively early stages of adoption by midsize and larger business ventures, the migration is taking place. Midsize business segment adoption trends often reflect most U.S. businesses. Currently the trend leans toward a slightly higher hunger for in-house IP PBX solutions.
According to Market Research, while businesses of all sizes are reluctant to totally rely on VoIP for their communication needs, the midsize sector is less inclined to do so with only seven percent of these businesses indicating that they use VoIP exclusively for 100% of their business communication needs.
What You’ll Need
As with a small business, you’ll need the use of an Analog Telephone Adapter, an IP telephone, or a computer. These tools are simple, yet they don’t work if the power goes down. But, with VoIP, a a converged data and voice network system is available. This type of system will allow you to take advantage of the VoIP flexibility and still maintain a portion of the traditional business phone system’s integrity.
But, before any business integrates VoIP into a traditional phone service (or vice versa), it’s a good idea to examine VoIP’s basic architecture for cost effective solutions. This is a time-consuming but important procedure that can add to the bottom line. Proper analysis of costs and benefits in current telephony systems and the addition of VoIP can save money in the long run.
Features to Look For
When you analyze your current system and any additions, consider the organizational, technical, and mechanical issues involved in these changes. Some other features to look for include:
- What are the added benefits in total replacement?
- Which mission critical issues may or may not be addressed through VoIP additions?
- Can current LAN or WAN networks be enabled to provide VoIP service?
- Can your business face a possible loss in quality when compared with traditional PBXs?
- Can legacy phones be used with the VoIP system?
- Is your bandwidth large enough to enable multimedia exchanges?
- How easy to use is that new system?
You may need to supply training to use the new system, but your costs may be reduced with VoIP usage and with the loss of some traditional billing and integration costs. Still, it is more to an advantage for a midsize business to adopt VoIP than a larger enterprise on the front end. The cost benefits may determine your decisions.
Finally, before you sign anything, look for a way to exit a contract if the VoIP system doesn’t work for your business. You may not be able to avoid the ubiquitous long-term contract common to the telecom industry, but you can do your best to remove arbitrary and excessive early termination penalties.
Small Business VoIP
If you want your business to seem larger, then VoIP can help you reach that goal. With the public switched telephone network (PSTN), you and your staff need to remain in one static office location. With VoIP, you can maintain offices scattered worldwide, and all offices could connect to the same VoIP service through the Internet.
As a small business, you can see savings immediately on the front end, since PBX systems, phones, applications, installation, monthly maintenance fees and trunk lines can run into the thousands of dollars. The costs of these necessities often force small businesses to reduce their telecom choices to a basic phone service. VoIP-hosted business phone services nearly eliminate the up-front investment costs and often provide corporate-class PBX functionality over a high speed Internet connection.
If you invest in VoIP technology now before your business expands, you can enjoy significant savings as that system can expand with you easily. All you need is a broadband connection and a VoIP service geared to fit your needs.
What You’ll Need
At the basic level, small business owners will need the use of an Analog Telephone Adapter, an IP telephone, or a computer. While these needs sound simple, they also require power. If the power is shut down, your VoIP service won’t work. PSTN works on power from a central office, so it may continue to be a choice for any business owner who fears a loss of communication during power failures.
Before you adapt to a VoIP system, you’ll need to investigate regulatory development and its impact on IP telephony. IP telephony is unregulated in most countries and regulatory authorities are monitoring the situation closely. Recently, the House passed the 911 Modernization and Public Safety Act, requiring VoIP providers to offer enhanced 911, or E-911, service, which pinpoints the caller’s location.
On the other hand, this bill also requires that the large telecom carriers that own the 911 networks allow VOIP providers to be able to connect to the networks, and it requires the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration to put together a plan for a national IP-based emergency dialing network that can handle video and data traffic. This expansion bodes well for VoIP technology expansion.
On the other hand, power failures would disable the E911 service for a VoIP customer and providing a location is difficult since a person can connect from anywhere. This could curb the capability that makes the office seem larger, as users would need to make their locations known. Despite these challenges, VoIP technology represents an opportunity to grow your business initially.
Features to Look For
If you can find a system that includes an “automated attendant,” you can route incoming calls to the appropriate department or person. This feature eliminates the need for a receptionist as you begin to grow your business. Another feature in some systems, the ‘virtual number,’ allows some individuals to contact you long distance without charge – similar to a toll free number.
Employees can communicate seamlessly with each other and with the outside world under one primary phone number, even if they’re not located in one static location. This is, perhaps, the primary advantage for a business that wants to appear larger as it starts out. And, the more features you can add to the VoIP system, the more sophisticated your business will appear. Call waiting, caller ID, call transfer and toll free numbers are features you’d want initially. As your business grows, you can add more features, but you also want to look for reliability in an expanded service.
VoIP may be a perfect alternative to PSTN for a small business, as your business can grow with the technology and visa versa.
Residential VoIP technology varies little from those services offered to businesses. The premise is that your landline telephone calls can be transmitted in real-time through your computer’s IP (Internet Protocol). You use the phone just as you normally would, by picking up the phone to answer when it rings and by using that phone to make local, long distance, and international calls.
VoIP is touted as the ultimate method to reduce personal phone costs, but the most dramatic impact on phone budgets is in the business sector. VoIP can be more effective cost-wise with expanded usage. But, don’t let this cost limitation prevent you from experimenting with this technology. You can use residential VoIP as an Internet chat device, you can share photos or data with friends as you talk, and it won’t tie up your personal telephone line while you use it.
What You’ll Need
Your choices in residential VoIP include the capacity to talk with anywhere from one to fifty individuals or more at a time. This ability to talk with many people can be a strong pull for larger families. Additionally, VoIP is a consideration for those who are online gaming fanatics, as it allows you to play video games and converse with other gamers in the process. If those are your requirements, then you may already have the broadband connection you need for the VoIP system to work.
No matter whether you intend to plan a family reunion or become a game master, low-cost devices for VoIP can include standalone boxes that provide VoIP functionality for your traditional phone service that works through a broadband modem (cable or DSL). These boxes serve as a bridge between your traditional phone system and the Internet.
But, the choices won’t be easy, as there are many residential VoIP service providers. And, they’ll all try to compete for your business with features that will go beyond your basic phone service functions. Data bridging and routing, emerging voice and signaling security features, and other ancillary functions can make your head spin if you’re not familiar with this technology.
With that said, be sure to ask about contracts, the hidden costs with some additional equipment and services, and learn whether the VoIP vendor is reliable and qualified to install your system.
Features to Look For
Look for price cuts so that you can tap into higher values and features that might have been out of reach previously. Look for call waiting, voicemail, caller ID, and other services that might be included free. Also check on area coverage, as some VoIP services are no better or worse than cell phones in this arena. Also ask to see alternative plans, and ask what it might cost to upgrade or to cancel the service.
Finally, just as with any business service, make sure your VoIP provider is reliable and that the service doesn’t charge (or overcharge) for support services.